This week’s entry starts another round of the five elements of advancement – Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development.  It’s easy to remember the ARMED acronym those five elements create.

Since summer is here for many schools, and just around the corner for a few others, let’s start off this round of 5 articles with marketing, answering the question, “How do we market our schools during the summer?”

For a number of schools, the answer may, unfortunately, be, “Badly.”

There was a phrase I heard over 25 years ago when I was in the radio industry: “If a shark stops swimming, it dies.”  Even it’s been said that they really don’t, there are indeed some species that must keep swimming to keep water moving through their gills in order for them to maintain their oxygen intake.  So, with that in mind, let’s say that your school is this particular variety of shark.  In other words, does your school “close” during the summer?  Do the activities at your school completely “stop?”

Over the past couple of years, because of the pandemic, you may be inclined to say, “Yes, we were closed!  Students had to learn with technology from home!”  But the while the building may have been “inaccessible,” your school was still “open” for business.  You pivoted to change the way that instruction was being delivered to students, and students were expected to respond.  Parents were also forced to become more fully engaged with their children’s education.  One school leader commented to me, “Remember all those parents that we used to call “helicopter” parents, and then became “snowplow” parents, and wanted to clear the path for their children’s success?  Well…they got what they wished for.”   Remember at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, many parents complained when the school didn’t reopen for business as usual, and “in-person” instruction could change from day to day if someone tested positive for the virus.  Even when the first vaccines were administered in the spring of 2021, the 2021-2022 school year was still very different.  Why?  A significant number of families enrolled their students in faith-based schools because they took precautions over the summer to be able to offer in-classroom instruction safely.  Others who did the same thing, however, STILL lost students!  Why?  Perhaps because they didn’t effectively communicate – and OVERcommunicate – what they were doing to ensure a safe environment.  As always, they just expected students to “show up” on the first day of school.

So let’s look at this from the historical perspective first, and then look at it from the new normal we now need to embrace.

Traditionally, did your school completely shut down and close its doors in July so that everyone has four weeks to themselves before ramping it back up in August again? If so, you were losing the possibility of connecting with parents with children who are moving into your area, and, if no one kept updating the Web site and sharing experiences on social media, you were losing contact with current parents as well as those currently interested in your school.

It’s become evident that schools need to CONSTANTLY communicate with families.  So if you’re not reaching out to them, monitoring the Website and social media, and focusing on caring communication rather than just focusing on offering a “caring environment,” it’s time to pivot.

Then there’s today’s reality of work from home/work from anywhere/housing expenses and high mortgage payments with low interest rates causing concern because of the significant cost of living increases, gasoline prices, and now, stock market losses.  Parents with young children may once again be moving into your area!  In difficult economic times, while some parents leave to pursue new job opportunities, some parents actually move to your school’s market for the same reason!  Some parents may have to move in with their parents in order to weather the storm – yet they still want their children to go to a faith-based school. If parents have no way to engage with your school, you’ll miss these phone calls and requests for a tour or to answer their questions about the plans you have for your school, and today’s parents expect you to accommodate their request for these details when it’s convenient for them, and not necessarily for you.

In turbulent economic times, companies transfer employees to new job locations, but people have realized they can work from anywhere effectively, and are now looking at opportunities they would have never considered before.  Further, company transfers are done during the summer to coincide with fiscal years that begin in July, and to not disrupt children during the school year.  I know of one local family that received an offer of a great opportunity, but they need to move to the Georgia from Pennsylvania to take advantage of it.

For those parents who are relocating from places like California and New England  to where housing is more affordable, if they perceive your school as “closed” for the summer, you’ll miss their phone calls and requests for more details about your plans.

Do you see a pattern developing?

Most parents today make contact with your school initially by visiting your school’s responsive, fresh and inviting Website, and if you don’t have one of those, you’re really late to the party.  Traditionally, many of those schools that shut down during July also didn’t update their Web sites during the summer…and that’s definitely NOT a “Best Practice.”

Summer can even be a time for your school to generate additional revenue, especially with the potential of online course offerings!  After all, you’re now experienced with it!  It can offer special July seminars in computer applications to students and parents – Access on Mondays, Word on Tuesdays, Excel on Wednesdays, PowerPoint on Thursdays. Perhaps teach parents how to use new apps to organize and deal with their email on their iPad or Android tablet.  The argument that parents don’t have a computer at home has now been eliminated with our “Stay at Home/Work From Home” experience, and tablets and mobile devices are nothing more than hand-held computers.  Further, if your school policies require that every family have a valid email address, some type of device is necessary to access this information.  This effectively eliminates the “I don’t have a computer” argument.  For those who continue to push that argument and base it on affordability, then how are they going to be able to afford the tuition payments they’re going to need to agree to make?

Continue to be well, and stay safe.  There have been over 1 million people we’ve lost to the effects of the pandemic.  Sadly, it’s demonstrative of how the “it’s all about me” attitude differs from the “it’s all about us” mindset.  We need to protect one another, and that’s what fostering community is all about.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2022